Edward Harper Parker.

China, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day online

. (page 24 of 35)
Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day → online text (page 24 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

owing to the competition of crooked foreign
traders eager for business. It is also a curious
fact that, although Government credit vis-a-vis
of the people stands so low that it could not
well go lower, as regards foreign obligations
it is, subject to political risks, as good as that
of almost any country. It is quite pathetic to
watch the extraordinary assiduity with which
funds are collected for the service of the
foreign loans ; and even touching to read of
coolie caravans trudging laboriously along with
loads of silver all the way from Shan Si to the


banks of Shanghai, where the buUion is paid
into the credit of the Customs treasury for the
benefit of overfed financiers in Europe. Nearly
all foreigners who have ever been employed by
Chinese have noted the scrupulous punctuality
with which their salaries are paid, at all events
when it is possible : the national honour seems
very sensitive upon this point. At times the
treasury may be hopelessly depleted, and under-
lings, through whose hands the money passes,
will always endeavour to make a " squeeze "
on the scale, or on the exchange ; but that
does not seriously affect the main consideration
herein indicated.

8. " Morals " is of course a vague and compre-
hensive word, but I use it here, advisedly, in the
contracted sense of popular English usage.
The Chinese are undoubtedly a libidinous people,
with a decided inclination to be '' nasty " about
it. Herein they differ from the Japanese, who
are excessively lax, but very rarely raffines.
A check is placed upon this national Chinese
characteristic by the almost universal practice
of early marriage. Moreover, 90 per cent, of
the population are too poor even to think of
any further sexual indulgence than the posses-
sion of a single wife affords. Among the well-
to-do classes the civilian mandarins, who in
Manchu times never served in their own pro-
vince, are often forced to lead a secluded and
sedentary life, and in most cases prefer to leave
their first or legitimMe wives at home, partly on
account of the dangers of travel, and partly in
order to look after the family graves, docu-
ments, and honour. Hence concubines are in
these cases almost recognised as a necessity.
Most rich mandarins, however, go beyond neces-
sity, and they are the most profligate class. Next
come the wealthy merchants; but these, when


living at home, are naturally more bound to
decency by family ties than are the mandarins
who move about to temporary habitations with
their servants and concubines. Still, amongst
all classes and ranks the " moral sense " is
decidedly weak, and there is hardly a Manchu or
a Chinese living possessed of that form of
" Puritanical " virtue seen in som.e Europeans,^ —
that condition of mind which frowns at a ribald
or even a risque story, sternly refuses any sexual
temptation that may offer, or forces itself to be
content with a chivalrous platonic attitude. The
depressing spectacle of 2,000,000 old maids in
England (the proportion would be 20,000,000 in
China) has no counterpart there. Neither man
nor woman exists in China to whom the function-
ing of his or her own nature remains a sealed
mystery. Of Chinese women it is less easy to
speak than of men, for (subject to the effect of
" progress " during the last twenty years) nearly
all respectable ones lead a purdah life; but to
judge by the language of novels, what one reads of
in law cases, and sees in street life ; by the jealous
behaviour of men, and the brutally cruel customs
in vogue for punishing all female lapses, " every
(Chinese) woman is at heart a rake," and pre-
cautions are taken accordingly by their lords
and masters. Some provinces have decidedly
more " conscience " than others. The Cantonese,
though exceedingly libidinous, disapprove of
" artificial vice " of all kinds. On the other
hand, Fuh Kien has an infamous reputation,
possilDly owing to its ancient connection with
traders from beyond the seas ; and undoubtedly
the morals of that province are made worse by
the fearful prevalence of female infanticide, and
the consequent comparative scarcity of women.
The northerners, more especially the crapulous
leisured classes of Peking, used openly to flaunt


the worst of vices, and I have not heard of
improvement. No doubt Tartar influence has
had its effect, for from Bokhara to Corea all
Tartars seem fashioned from one mould in this
respect. Offences which with us are regarded
as almost capital — in any case as infam.ous
crimes' — do not count for as much as petty mis-
demeanours in China ; not even in Canton, where
disapproved. This easy-going view works both
ways : it obtains for the Chinese the mistaken
reputation of universally indulging in vile gratifi-
cations ; but such indulgences, by the mere fact
that they are no crimes, soon run themselves
out harmlessly in youth, while ridicule suffices to
do the rest ; and what an old scamp does in his
harem concerns no one but himself and his
slaves. Anyhow, there is no hum.bug, conceal-
ment, or Mrs. Grundyism. In sum, I am
disposed to say that the Chinese, taken as a
whole, are not much, if any, worse than Euro-
peans ; in each case, some countries (or pro-
vinces) being greater sinners than others.

9. The Chinese do not treat children well.
Japan has been justly described as the paradise
of children. China is the reverse. Fathers and
mothers, especially rich ones, of course pet and
fondle pretty children of both sexes, and they
like to see them well dressed. Also fathers of
old or official family are careful to have their
sons well trained, according to native ideas of
propriety. But the m.asses of fathers ignore
their daughters altogether, or regard them as
impedimenta of the female department, to be
kept safely out of the way, and dry, like any
other indispensable stores. Within the past
dozen years, however, female education has been
largely introduced, and women's "rights" have
broadened as much as their former loose and
airy clothing has tightened. Sons are viewed


as links, spiritually connecting the person with
one's ancestors and futurity. The American
idea of children — and indeed they are often pert,
'* marred " little creatures, brought up under
exaggerated ideas of liberty- — is monstrous in
Chinese eyes. No such sight existed in imperial
China as a father sitting down to dinner to eat,
smoke, and chat with his sons, and even to
exchange " views." The only approach to such
easy familiarity was when a busy shopman and
his sons, usually with other relatives or employes,
sat round one table for convenience' or economy's
sake, and snatched a hasty meal by shovelling rice
down together from one big dish ; but even then
the sons had to mind their p's and q^s: to sit
down before a father is " seated unco' right," or,
as each in turn picks a bit with his chopsticks from
the meat or condiment plate, to " bag" the best
piece of meat out of the tureen in a playful way,
would still be an outrage on the paternal dig-
nity. A fortiori a wife, still less a daughter, can
(or could) never join the festive board on even
terms, as with us. During the drafting of law
reform ten years ago, several prominent viceroys
strongly protested against the introduction of
so much personal or individual right at the cost
of the old patriarchal authority, and of the hus-
band's ancient privileges. Mothers are essen-
tially " spankers " ; even if kind at times, their
tempers are so ill-balanced that they are apt
to scold and slap on the slightest provocation.
The cries of the child only feed their spite, and
urge them on to downright cruelty, as though
" inebriated with the exuberance of their own
verbosity " and screams. Fathers do not beat
children much ; their castigations are reserved
for their wives. When a boy gets beyond the
"spanking" age, his mother has to treat him
as a superior being, and the father would not


tolerate any further beatings of the son except
under his own authority. Girls were steadily
beaten and bullied by their mothers from wean-
ing time until they were women, when they
became a jprey to something worse- — mothers-in-
law ; I cannot say if the Republic has worked
improvement. It is by no means rare, however,
for a fatRer, or mother, or both, to show exces-
sive affection for one or all of their children.
There are kind good hearts in China, as else-
where. I am only speaking of " averages " as
seen by myself. The patria potestas as it obtains
in China is totally foreign to our English ideas ;
of European nations the French alone, and to a
limited extent the Spanish and Italians, have
any vestiges of it left : not many. No doubt
it is found best, so far as and wherever it exists,
for the country concerned, for we must assume
that all institutions become such or remain such
because approved. Nolumus mutare, etc. But
the product in China is not always pleasing to us.
The very words used in politeness for " your
father" and "your mother" show us what the
Chinese think :■ — " your honourable severe" and
*' your honourable tender one." In China chil-
dren certainly romp about with great freedom ;
but so do the pigs ; they are none the less
capriciously treated and cuffed about : they fear
rather than respect or love their parents.

10. Temperance in " self supply " is a Chinese
virtue ; in that respect we are inferior to them
in quite a disgusting degree. Drunkenness is so
rare that it is not regarded as disgraceful at all, but
rather as good form, to get tipsy at a feast; just
as with us the act of kissing is so little connected
with lust that it is quite " the thing " to do it
in public. But a Chinaman thinks it even in-
decent to use the word " kiss," and our walking
out with women to be barefaced immorality ;

A.D. 1870-1895] INDULGENCE IN DRINK, ETC. 289

but here the RepubHc has worked a change, and
women not only have more freedom, but seem to
use it discreetly. Strong drink is sometimes dis-
approved of in political or economical philosophy
because it causes anger and a waste of good
grain ; never because men get drunk : accord-
ingly, in times of scarcity distilling is often
forbidden or checked. In the extreme north
(especially Manchuria) liquor is considered almost
a necessity, and there is a good deal of red-nosed
tippling among the well-to-do. Occasionally
soldiers get flushed and violent, but that is on
the same principle that they eat criminals'
hearts and livers — to gain pluck. Notwith-
standing all this, in a word, neither drunkenness
nor " drinking " exists in China : the exceptions
are a minimum quantity, and if a falling off has
taken place recently, it is probably to counter-
balance the abstention from opium. In eating
there is no question of indulgence in the case of
95 per cent, of the population : a man shovels
down all he can get for his money, and if he can
afford to buy more than is necessary, a little
extra rice, millet, or buckwheat does him no
harm. " Indulgence " only exists amongst the
mandarin and rich mercantile classes, and their
chief idea is to " feed up to the occasion " ;
hence the enormous consumption of expensive
aphrodisiacs, real and imaginary, such as bird's-
nest jelly, sea-slugs, ginseng, cats' organs, deers'
horns, and a host of other trumpery and even
disgusting objects. I have often been asked by
mandarins why their powers were failing, and
what they ought to eat in order to raise a larger
family, or at least to " take steps " thereto.

1 1 . Industry is the ruling virtue of the Chinese,
from the top of the scale to the bottom, but with
the not unreasonable qualification that a man
must be working for himself. No one is more


industrious in amassing pelf than the identical
mandarin who neglects to bestir himself to do
justice. No one works better (always) than the
builder or artisan on a piece job, or worse
(sometimes) than the same man on a time job.
All Chinese (except opium-sots and the over-
married) are risers with the sun ; usually before
it. Until (in very recent years) kerosene was
introduced, there was no artificial light worthy
of the name ; hence everyone was in bed by six
or eight, according to season. If the days in
winter were as short as with us, the Chinese
would probably have adopted the lazy, sleepy
habits of the last generation of Russians before
night workshops came into vogue ; but the
days according to season do not vary much in
length, especially in the south parts. In these
circumstances, it is no great virtue to get up at
four and six, or even at two or three. All
Chinese inns are in full swing of motion two hours
before daylight, and there is much night travel-
ling in parts. A Chinaman works hard all day,
but never feverishly ; he stops for an occasional
snack, swig, or smoke, and is always ready for
a running chat. The tacit principle of Chinese
industry is to neglect all secured rights and aim
at more. Thus, a man will work well for £50 a
year ; but if you give him £1,000 to do the same
work, he will probably neglect part of it in order
to turn £50 more in some fresh way. No matter
what takes place, or under what circumstances,
a Chinaman, whatever be his rank or position,
at once sees money or money-loss in it. If you
give him a free passage, he smuggles ; but a free
passage alone will do, if the smuggling is impos-
sible ; if it is easy, he lets his friends smuggle
too. A classical instance occurred last (1916)
summer, when the Minister of Justice, a num-
ber of M.P.'s, and some high military officers

A.D. 1870-1895] THE HANDY MAN 29i

travelling on duty from Yiin Nan, were all
mixed up in a wholesale smuggle of opium,* vid
Tonquin, into Shanghai. If nothing else occurs to
the hunter after profitable game, there is chance
of compensation after a disaster ; hence arson
is a common offence in these days of insurance.
If you give him a present, he will even ask — if
possible- — for a " better dollar than this one,"
or count up the copper cash to see if they are all
good and sound : (copper "cash" are, however,
being rapidly ousted in favour of a foreign style
coin dubbed " a copper "). If a mandarin admits
a claim, there is certain to be a hitch in the
quality and weight of the silver before you
actually encash it, and all attempts to reform
the currency have so far failed. A boatman
delays you an hour because " fuel is cheap here."
In a v/ord, the whole wits of nearly every living
Chinaman (and woman) seem to be devoted to
turning to pecuniary profit every incident in
which he has had, has, or may have a hand, direct
or indirect. Accounts are kept by considerable
traders with scrupulous exactitude. No Chinese
ever needs information as to market prices or
values ; or, if he does, he knows how to get it
without having to trust anybody. In short, as
traders the Chinese are easily " number one."

12. We talk about Jack being a " handy man,"
but he must take points from a Chinaman. The
usual exceptions excepted, every Chinese knows
the time without a watch ; can at a pinch buy,
prepare, and cook his own food ; wash, patch,
if not make his own clothes ; judge the weather,
till the fields, carry a pole and its load ; indicate
the north, manoeuvre a punt, sail a boat, catch
fish, saddle and act as " vet." to a horse ;
tackle animals, birds, and reptiles of all kinds
under unexpected circumstances ; walk or ride

1 See page 204.


a long distance, sleep anywhere at any moment,
take no exercise whatever for any length of
time, loaf time away ; gain the graces of any
woman of any nationality (if she will let him) ;
eat anything, go anywhere, remain without
change' — and do other things innumerable. What
a Chinaman cannot do may be summed up as
follows : Shave himself ; do up his own hair (but
since the abolition of pigtails in most parts
these two defects have become obsolete) ; cure
his own maladies ; keep off vermin ; fight with
his fists ; manage a steamer ; keep military or
naval discipline (Yiian Shi-k'ai led the way
to improvement here just when the early edition
of this book came out) ; handle trust money
honestly ; tell a plain, unvarnished story ; be
punctual; show nerve in times of sudden dan-
ger; eat cheese; or tolerate a female " master."
The complicated question of Chinese character
does not permit of settlement in a few cursory
pages, but the above will at least serve to indi-
cate the general impression which over a quarter
of a century of residence am^ong Celestials ended
by leaving on my mind ; and it must always be
remembered that the Chinese individual, as well
as the Chinese State, is still in the crucible, the
amount of new scvun being doubtful.



People are apt to confuse themselves by first
harking back upon the obsolete historical word
religio, the very derivation of which is contested
and obscure, and secondly by confusing the word
" piety " with religion. This vagueness leaves
open the door to unlimited argument, the total
result of which is to land us in quite as foggy a
region of thought as that in which most men's
actual feelings on religion generally flounder.
We must go to the root of matters at once and
ask ourselves : What is the popular view and
ordinary effect of formal religion ? With us in
Great Britain the first thing is to " go to church,"
and not to work on Sundays ; then to say our
prayers, to say grace, and (in a progressive string
according to the degree of our piety) to be chaste,
sober, charitable with money ; to praise God, look
to a future life, and so on. Except that there
is no Sunday, and the curious idea of " praise "
has never entered a Chinaman's mind, a " good
man " in China- — which means in this connection
exactly the same thing as a pious or religious
one- — is very much a counterpart of the good
Englishman. He visits the church or temple
with quite as much or as little understanding
as most of ourselves of the reason why he does
so ; and says prayers — but only when he has
anything to pray for ; he pours out a libation



or scatters a thank-offering for his food, and
moreover does not forget an acknowledgment,
often daily, to his ancestors. In chastity per-
haps inferior, in sobriety decidedly superior to
our average selves, he is infinitely, more charit-
able, especially to relatives ; in his private, but
not in his public capacity. As to a future life,
he is totally indifferent on that subject so long
as his head is kept on his shoulders in this one,
in order that he may make his bow in decent
form when he arrives in any other sphere there
may be. In " natural religion," therefore, a
Chinaman differs little from ourselves.

In "faith," "doctrine," and "dogma" it is
different ; and I do not believe any power will
succeed in drumming any one of the three into
the Chinese mind, which is much too clear to
take on trust any mere insistence upon alleged
facts which cannot be proved by plain evidence.
With us a cook who wants a good situation ad-
vertises that she " holds Church views." Most
Chinamen have also their views, and if not so
orthodox to our taste as those of the cook, they
are usually at least more intelligible. There
would never be any " missionary rows " if things
were allowed to stand in the "view" stage;
but (sometimes unhappily) our churches militant
think it their duty to try and effect a change,
not only of view, but also of behaviour by active
means, instead of allowing the Chinaman to
think and act (as they themselves do) for himself.
The average Chinese, though behindhand in
science, is, in many matters, the intellectual
superior of the average European ; hence comes
the trouble.

The foundation of religious feeling seems to
have been much the same in ancient China as
elsewhere. The sun was seen to rise, shedding
warmth and light ; the moon did the same, in

B.C. 3000-500] THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY 295

part. Hence the saluting or worshipping of
the sun ; and, by analogy, to a lesser extent, the
moon. The wind and rain were as often agree-
able as objectionable. Hence the idea of bad
and good forces, with an appeal to the pair for
some show of discrimination in their favours.
When life sped, it was difficult to imagine (the
body being still there) whither the intelligence
and activity had gone. Hence confused ideas
of souls, ghosts, gods, and so on. It is easy to
extend this natural system. Desire for children,
gratitude to parents, remorse for injury done to
the dead ; mysterious noises in darkness and
solitude ; droughts, floods, eclipses. In a word,
Chinamen saw themselves surrounded by many
things they could not understand, and their
imaginations (like those of our early ancestors)
constructed strange " beliefs " to account for

The next stage was the Confucian, and it was
only in Confucius' time that written thought
became really intelligible and connected, and
that older works of value were made more dis-
tinct. Confucius had the good sense to say that he
understood nothing about souls and supernatural
mysteries ; he therefore declined to discuss them.
But meanwhile forms and ceremonies had in-
sensibly grown up with advancing wealth and
experience ; besides which Taoism and other
philosophical doctrines were beginning to make
men speculative and polemical. Confucius,
therefore, did his best to reconcile popular cus-
toms or prejudices with the practical business
of state ; he does not seem to have much sym-
pathised with mere " thinkers." He evidently
thought Laocius a humbug, and he would have
thought Kant a humbug too. He was a sort
of popular democratic Lord Chesterfield, and
tried to teach his children of China how to be


decent, orderly, and gentle ; how to give and
take without violence ; how to observe distinc-
tions of rank ; how to keep women in check ;
and so on. He did this with such success
(despite a suspicion of priggishness) that his
influence still remains ; for dynasty after dynasty
has found support therein for " monarchism."
He was no religious teacher ; but as a moral
instructor he must be given rank after Jesus
of Nazareth,' — possibly even after Shakyamuni ;
with, but before Mahomet. Even the Republic,
after abolishing him, has plumped for him once
more. It must be stated, however, what is not gen-
erally known, that a couple of centuries earlier the
practical statesman Kwan-tsz ^ anticipated a good
portion of both Laocius' and Confucius' teaching.
A further great revolution in thought took place
about two centuries before our era; the time
coincides with the conquests of the Parthians,
and it is possible that Graeco-Roman civilisation
was affected by the same wave that influenced
China — whatever it was. At all events there
was a general movement and a simultaneous
expansion in the world, all the way from Rome
to Corea. The result was that China now first
heard of India, Buddhism, and the Parthians ;
and before long Buddhist philosophy took a
firm hold on the Chinese mind, just as Chris-
tianity at the same time gradually got a grip of
the Roman or Greek mind. The history of the
spread of Buddhism over the Far East is a long
one. Like Christianity, later on it soon became
surcharged with useless " doctrine " and priestly
corruption ; in other words, the men who handled
it were but poor representatives of the founders.
Hence it lost caste, and had its ups and downs
from dynasty to dynasty, just as our European
religions had during Tudor times. But it left

1 See pp. 43, 238.


behind a lasting effect in this way. Buddhism
was democratic ; it was the enemy of class
feeling, luxury, cruelty, and greed. It was
merciful, favoured simplicity and economy, and
gave women an equal status with men. Hence
it has had a decidedly good influence upon
men's minds, and especially upon women's; in
fact, Chinese women, having nearly always
been uneducated, and therefore unable to read
or understand contentious philosophy ; being
assigned moreover by Confucius a back seat in
life, could have no religion or moral teaching
except Buddhism and " nature." All Buddhist
" doctrine " is discredited in China by men of

Online LibraryEdward Harper ParkerChina, her history, diplomacy, and commerce, from the earliest times to the present day → online text (page 24 of 35)